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State schools chief: If lawmakers don’t move on teacher evaluations, I will

Michigan superintendent Brian Whiston
Michigan Department of Education
Michigan Department of Education

The new head of the Michigan Department of Education says he’ll act on his own to improve teacher evaluations if lawmakers fail to do so.

The state Senate approved a bill in May meant to improve teacher evaluations and make them more uniform across the state. Senate Bill 103 has since stalled in the state House.

State Superintendent Brian Whiston says he, Gov. Rick Snyder, and lawmakers have been working together on the issue. But he says time is running out.

“If we don’t get movement, then the department will have to decide what the next steps will be,” said Whiston.

“We want an evaluation system in place as we start the new school year so districts can go through the training necessary to make sure it’s a fair evaluation for every employee.”

Whiston says the Michigan Department of Education can train districts on new evaluation practices and provide tools to implement them. 

But he says legislation will be needed eventually either way because the MDE does not have the authority to address certain issues. For example, it cannot address the question of how much of the evaluations should be based on student growth on state standardized tests. The Senate bill would reduce that percentage from 50 percent to 40 percent.

That legislation gives school districts more control over the evaluations, unlike bills that stalled last year which were more prescriptive. 

Whiston says he also wants to give districts options. But “we also know as a state we can’t support 20 different evaluation systems. We’re probably going to end up supporting the three or four that most districts use,” he said.

He says he will bring a proposal before the State Board of Education if there’s no movement on the legislation in the next 30 days.

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